by Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” I never understood this saying until recently. As far as I was concerned, the strong members of your group could compensate for the weaker ones, as long as the weak members were outnumbered. It doesn’t work that way.
My son’s soccer team recently merged with another team because neither had enough players to make a roster. The two halves of the teams live in different cities, hold separate practices and train with different coaches who have different coaching philosophies. Our half of the team took first place four consecutive seasons. The other team was always toward the bottom of the pack. Combined, we’re at the bottom of the pack.
Financial institutions most likely relate to this, because they usually have teams of employees at different branch locations with managers who manage differently. Do any of those managers exercise business practices that contradict your brand? Those are your weak links, or brand gaps. Even if it’s only one manager at one location, that branch weakens the overall strength of your brand.
Following are a few suggestions to strengthen or repair your weak links:
Staff buy-in is critical to your brand’s success. That starts with brand training. We conduct brand training for every branding client we work with, because it’s so important. Brand training explains what branding is, how it impacts your credit union and how employees must live the brand in their jobs daily. It gets everyone on the same page and excited about your brand promise to customers or members. Repeat it regularly and be sure every new employee experiences it. If you have to take the training to certain locations and deliver it multiple times, do it. Your brand depends on it.
Every executive at your financial institution must lead the brand. They must be living examples of the culture and values that define your brand. If your brand is friendly, say hi to employees on the elevator or in the hallway. Learn their names. Smile. Employees tend to imitate whatever behaviors your executives exhibit – positive or negative.
Your brand is not just your logo or your dress code or the framed values hanging on the wall. Those are all pieces of your brand, which encompasses everything about your financial institution. It is a way of life for your employees on the job, and it needs to be enforced. The marketing department often polices how your logo is used and what branches look like, but every manager is responsible for monitoring his or her employees. You want all employees to get on board with your brand, and hopefully with adequate training and leadership (and sometimes discipline) they will. Those who refuse are no longer a fit for your organization. They are your weak links and should seek employment elsewhere.
Banking is a competitive industry in which differentiation is already a challenge. You cannot afford weak links. That doesn’t mean every employee is perfect all the time. It means they embrace the brand, try every day to live the brand and help your customers or members grow to love your brand.
By now, people around the world have either seen or heard about the recent viral video of authorities dragging a passenger off a United Airlines flight. The passenger wasn’t being unruly (until authorities began man handling him). He wasn’t breaking the law. He was the victim of a computer algorithm that “randomly” selected him to leave the plane. The airline needed four seats to fly crew members to a destination where they had to work the next day. Only three passengers volunteered their seats. United needed one more. They chose to handle it by pulling a passenger off the flight kicking and screaming (literally). Needless to say, it was handled badly, and United is already paying for it.
How can your financial institution avoid a brand scandal of this magnitude?
A financial institution’s failure to plan adequately is not the customer’s problem. It shouldn’t be anyway. United not having enough seats for its scheduled employees is about the equivalent of a financial institution not having enough money to accommodate withdrawals. It should never happen. Whatever contingencies you have in place for such a time should focus on inconveniencing the financial institution – not the customer or member.
Understand the situation before you comment on it
United CEO Oscar Munoz did the right thing by publicly apologizing the following day for the way the airline handled the situation. Where he failed was writing a letter telling employees the exact opposite. He applauded them for following procedures and handling a “disruptive and belligerent” passenger.
Clearly, Mr. Munoz did not understand why the passenger was belligerent until after he saw the viral video. And newsflash to Mr. Munoz: Nothing in writing is guaranteed to remain confidential, especially when you send it to thousands of employees who may not agree with your stance. While the CEO changed his attitude after the video went viral, it was too late. His credibility was already in question and so was the airline’s integrity.
Always apologize when your financial institution makes a mistake. Do not, however, put in writing words that will come back to haunt you because you failed to understand the full scope of the scandal before you spoke.
Train and empower employees to make better decisions
I don’t know the value of the voucher offered to the three passengers who voluntarily gave up their seats, but I’m willing to bet a fourth person would have come forward for the right price. The same holds true for your customers or members. Offer a valuable solution when a problem arises, even if you have to be creative or lose a little bit of money.
Even $1,000 or more would have cost the airline less than it stands to lose from this scandal. Stock prices dropped relatively quickly, and United typically doesn’t have the cheapest rates to begin with. Customers won’t have a hard time choosing another airline that doesn’t bully its passengers.
Most likely, United will recover from this scandal eventually. The question is, how much will it lose in the meantime for a situation that could have been avoided with better planning, communication and decision making?
One of the most important ways banks and credit unions can distinguish themselves in a sea of competitors is by involving consumers in an immersive brand experience from their first point of contact.
When trying to wrap your mind around the concept of an immersive brand experience, one of the great examples is Disney World. From the moment you walk into the park (and even before) you are completely submerged within the brand experience designed meticulously by Disney. Another example is Medieval Times. From the exterior of the castle to the lowering of the drawbridge and all the jousting and sword-fighting within, a trip to Medieval Times is about as authentic a (theatrical) trip back in time can be.
A fair push-back to these examples can sound something like “You’re talking about Disney World and Medieval Times — places that promote and provide supercool experiences. At our bank/credit union, were talking about checking accounts and loans — pretty dry fare.”
Sure, the inside of your bank or credit union probably lacks talking mice and jousting knights, but the principles of brand immersion still apply. To be a memorable financial institution, one that gives consumers reason to come back again and again, you must create and then adhere to a set of brand standards that guide every consumer interaction.
This is best accomplished by a deep-dive brand examination that includes mapping out the journey of your consumers, whether they come to you in person, on the telephone, via email or any other point of interaction (such as social media). You are ensuring that at every point of contact (and every branch facility or contact center you have) your consumers receive the same set of service standards.
This repetition of the brand immersion experience, when repeated consistently and well, leaves an indelible mark in the minds of your consumers – that your bank/credit union is the place to go, the place that understands them, the place best suited for their financial products and services. That’s one of the reasons places like Disney World and Medieval Times can charge the prices they do for admission. Sure, there’s plenty of places to take the family for food and entertainment that are a lot cheaper. But you’re buying into the brand immersion and expressing a lifestyle choice that says something about you as a consumer.
The same thing applies to a bank or credit union. And it doesn’t matter that we’re talking safe deposit boxes and savings accounts. Brand immersion, when done well, works the same for any retail operation. How well does your bank or credit union approach brand immersion to differentiate itself from the competition?
In that Golden Age known as the 1980s, the American public had to endure not only a Cold War with the Soviet Union but also a Cola War pitting Coca-Cola against PepsiCo. The Cold War employed multiple marketing and advertising campaigns to win the attention of consumers.
As part of the Cola Wars, Pepsi started showing consumers conducting blind taste tests (yes, actually blindfolded, taking sips of both Pepsi and Coke and then describing which one they enjoyed more) dubbed the “Pepsi Challenge.” Could your bank or credit union brands survive a similar blind taste test when it comes to your brand?
Here are some key indicators of brand strength and what your brand must accomplish in order to win in the saturated financial products and services marketplace (note: these are sometimes referred to as the “Three R’s of Branding”).
Reach: To succeed, your brand must have reach. That is to say, it must impact a certain number of people, depending on your marketplace, goals and competition, in order to survive. Reach is driven in large part by marketing and advertising (both traditional and nontraditional) and positive consumer word-of-mouth. Does your brand have reach?
Relevance: To succeed, your brand must have relevance. As noted above, there’s plenty of choice out there for consumers when it comes to financial products and services. Relevance is essentially a fancy way is asking the question “does our brand actually matter to the consumer?” Does your brand promote similar cultural values, norms and awareness that matter to your consumers? A more relevant brand is also a brand with which consumers are typically more engaged and, as a byproduct, more likely with which to interact and share their business. Does your brand have relevance?
Resonance: To succeed, your brand must have resonance. Resonance speaks more directly to the degree of engagement and targeted consumer has with a brand’s content. It also has a great deal to do with whether or not they share that brand message with their friends and family. Resonance is deeply connected to relevance; however, resonance simply cannot exist unless relevance is firmly rooted in the first place. Resonance requires that consumers identify at some level with your brand and then, critically, decide to elevate that identity into a relationship. Does your brand have resonance?
If your consumers (or potential consumers) took part in a blind taste test with your brand, could they identify it from the competition? Key branding elements like reach, relevance and resonance can help your bank or credit union win its own version of the Cola War and capture brand prominence for years to come.
This article contributed by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to check out The Lego Batman Movie at a local theater. A terrific mix of kid-friendly humor with plenty of shout-outs to the old-school Batman (think Adam West and Michael Keaton), the movie was a hit with both children and parents in the audience.
Spoiler Alert: While I won’t give away much in case you haven’t seen it yet, a recurring theme in the movie is that in order to succeed (both personally and as the Cape Crusader) Batman must learn to work less as a loner and more with the team. The same thing can be said of your bank or credit union brand.
Sure, your financial institution leadership team took the initiative to craft the brand and launch it. But now, it’s definitely a team effort. In order for your brand to succeed, it takes a complete and total buy-in of not just your leadership team but also, critically, your staff. And by staff, I mean everyone — front-line, back-office, IT, HR, you name it. Everyone has to believe in the brand and live it in front of each other and in front of your consumers every day in order for it to survive.
Application Point: A number of banks and credit unions invest a great deal of time and money in creating a brand and then simply launch it to the public with little to no training for their staff. This is somewhat like taking a friend to a fishing hole jumping with fish but refusing to give him a worm for his hook. Without that training tool, your staff won’t know how to live the brand and, more importantly, cannot reasonably be expected to represent the brand to consumers.
That’s why brand training is so important. It gives your frontline staff the tools they need in order to understand the brand, live the brand and represent the brand.
If a hard-nosed loner like Bruce Wayne can learn how to work as part of the team, your staff should have a much easier job of it. Back-up your brand expectations with serious brand training and realize better results.
The results of recent consumer choice experimentation conducted by advertising agency Hill Holiday confirms the rising tide of grassroots data about brand storytelling – products and services that have a story are worth more to consumers than those without.
The research in question looks specifically at four consumer purchase options: hotel studies, works of art, wine and items listed for sale on eBay. In every instance, those items backed up by some sort of personal testimonial had a greater perceived value in the minds of consumers. For example, works of art that included a brief personal story about the artist were deemed 11% more valuable. Similarly, items listed on eBay that included brief descriptions (rather than just pictures) attracted 64% higher bids.
There is a direct application here for banks and credit unions and their brands. Namely — your brand is worth a lot more to consumers if you take the time to tell its story. This is not necessarily the story of your brand as detailed in messaging like vision, mission and tagline statements (although these are important). Rather, the story here must be about your consumers and how they benefit from interacting with your financial institution.
Application Point: You can have the best-looking collateral marketing material in the world but without compelling brand storytelling it’s not worth the paper on which it’s printed. In order to make your brand pop, you have to tell its story. It’s terrific you have low rates on loans and a variety of checking account options. But have you ever taken time to listen to your consumers and learn how they benefit from these products and services? More importantly — do you then relate these first-person consumer testimonials about your products and services in your brand and marketing?
Let’s say you have a lobby poster featuring a consumer standing beside a new truck he just purchased. He got a great low rate. Extended payment terms. Skip-a-pay option once a year. Loan insurance. Terrific. Now, tell the real story. Give a brief bio of the member; why he needed the truck, how he uses it in his business, how it has impacted his personal and financial growth. These are the key points that consumers relate to. Rates are important. Dreams and providing for your family target the heartstrings and are the real essence of your brand story.
If a brief review of a hotel room from someone who actually stayed there increases perceived value by up to 5% (as related by the above-mentioned consumer study), it makes sense for your bank or credit union to tell the story of the people that actually use your products and services. Brand storytelling, in essence, drives up the perceived value of your bank or credit union.